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The Hamilton Hundred

February 14, 2018

Pre-e-commerce, I worked for a charter air ticket company. We rented aircraft and flew them many times a week, UK to Malaga, at a cost to us of £50 per ticket, return. We had a printed brochure, and those who phoned and quoted the prices got them – £79 to around £189, as I recall. Those who didn’t… “dynamic pricing” applied. One horrible January, customers phoning on Thursday to fly at the weekend got two seats for £40. Come May Bank Holiday week, the phoneroom held a contest for who could sell the last tickets at the highest prices. My team won, getting £390 for a single seat – probably the last out of the Britain that weekend (well, the Eurovision Song Contest was on TV that night, so it sort of made sense).

It doesn’t take a business genius to work out that prices were always calculated so that the peaks off-set the troughs and kept the company running year round. As it was, many companies lost the bet that year as a poor summer translated into closure before August for many. The fact is, though, that these days everything above applies to theatre, which is why I’m more phlegmatic than most about the recent “Hamilton” pricing revelations.

There’s a number of angles to take. First, had those palpitating over the £250 premium and £100 top non-premium seats been doing the job I do, they will have known that several huge musicals were charging similar prices for considerably more of the theatre (all three levels in some cases, certainly some really not great seats) right through the festive period. That’s the “off-setting the quiet patch” thing, meaning your favourite show runs longer for you to go back and see it, and everyone involved gets to pay their mortgage / rent and maybe even eat for another month.

Second, it’s psychological. The stink when “Sunset Boulevard,” and before it “Chess,” announced their original prices at £10 more than the top prices way back then… “Hamilton” has moved from £89.50 to £100 – just £10.50 more (the cost of a drink at the interval or a souvenir programme, really). It’s the third figure, though, that hurts. Also, the scare that other shows will follow suit. They will, that’s inflation.

Third, the show has actually been pretty careful. More than most will realise. When “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at the Palladium got amazing press night reviews, the following day all the prices shot up. “Hamilton” simply put a single extra month on sale at the original prices – and in fact revised those prices slightly to incorporate what the now knew about sight-lines. This time out, there have been further revisions and even the odd price-drop, meaning there are some decent tickets out there.

Fourth, and possibly most important: just because they set those prices, doesn’t mean they will get them. No producer likes an empty seat, and if a ticket won’t sell at one price, it may well sell at another. “Dynamic Pricing” cuts both ways.

Fifth, going by reader feedback, it isn’t the lack of prices that is really the main issue – it’s comfort and view, neither of which bear that much relation to price paid. There are some cheap seats with a great view and decent legroom, and some expensive ones that are really cramped and not raised high enough to see over the row in front, it seems. Indeed, I generally have time to see shows only once, but “Hamilton” I am seeing again later this year. Not because it was my favourite show, but simply because I was so uncomfortable last time (moved from comfy stalls to cramped circle due to the cancelled preview problem) that this time I want to be able to really concentrate.

Finally, like most things in life, you really do have a choice. Beyond those fixed costs of buying a ticket and travel fares, the rest is what you choose to make it. For me, I stretch my theatre budget by not buying more than a programme usually, never refreshments and so keep the costs down all the way. I select cheaper seats unless I really want to see something “close up” and in general, well, “budget” in all areas of my life. A bit old fashioned, but it works – as Mr Hamilton himself may well feel.

And that’s it, really. It’s about everybody operating within the economy. A quick check when I wrote this blog also shows that for the same date I’ll be attending in London, the New York production would set you back $549 for the equivalent £100 UK seats. Further, most of the remaining tickets are “secondary market” sales for $1018 in those £100 seats, or $519 to sit in the back of the mezzanine (£37.50 equivalent seats here). In other words, not so bad, really, is it…

  1. Francesca Clementis permalink
    February 14, 2018 12:00 pm

    Good article. Like you, I don’t have a problem with dynamic pricing. And I think it’s great that there has been a drop in some prices to acknowledge poor sightlines. But I was disappointed last week when buying tickets for King Lear (FAR more stressful than booking for Hamilton – bizarrely, ATG were unprepared for the frenzy and the website kept crashing.) For the first time I saw they had TWO levels of PREMIUM pricing. This was particularly noticeable to me as last week I was booking tickets for Broadway. I’m celebrating a VERY significant birthday this year so my oldest theatregoing friend and I are going to New York in October to do the big shows: Dear Evan Hansen, Waitress and Come From Away. The box office prices were eye-watering, especially for DEH which had Premium and Super Premium levels. It looks as if that is now becoming a ‘thing’ over here. I’m still reeling from the King and I prices… Ah well, it won’t deter real fans such as us, who have to be even cannier. Fortunately I love a challenge…

    • Steve Rich permalink
      February 14, 2018 3:16 pm

      Thanks Francesca. I agree on those two.

      We don’t use the “Lear” word around here, we just don’t, OK… Thanking all that is good, my ATG card got me 2 hours priority and a seat, but I agree the system couldn’t cope later on. In fairness, though, I don’t think anyone quite anticipated the demand.

      Multiple “premium prices” isn’t uncommon here. “Les Miz” has had it for a good while, and a fair number of shows now use it. Congratulations on your “special birthday” – oh to be 21 again myself. If only. Yes, Broadway was eye-popping, I couldn’t believe it either. As you say, though, us fans will continue to dance 1, 2, 3 and… and indeed seek out what we can…


      • Francesca Clementis permalink
        February 14, 2018 3:25 pm

        Yes, we now have an ATG card. I have just experienced the great pleasure of booking seats (for Cuba Gooding Jr in Chicago) for a matinee at half-price FOR SENIORS! This made me unutterably happy and we will be exploiting this and looking for further great matinee deals like this. At last, an advantage to ageing… I didn’t know about other shows having the multiple premium prices. Clearly this is the way ahead – another reason to book early.

      • Steve Rich permalink
        February 14, 2018 3:48 pm

        LOL, it’s very useful – hope you used / will use it for Wimbledon panto, massive saving :). Ah yes, the “senior” matinee deal. Didn’t realise you were actually 22, so apologies for my last reply. There are a lot of advantages indeed. Most theatres do senior prices at matinees in advance, worth knowing, I think. Yes, it is the way ahead, alas, and early booking is advised LOL.

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